This sets a worrying precedent for acceptance of hate speech.
Richard Spencer, who recently led a torch procession in Virginia to defend a statue of a Confederate General, has won $29,000 in legal costs from Auburn University, Alabama.
Spencer is a central figure in the US white nationalist ‘alt-right’ and founder of the North American and European alt-right partnership, Altright.com.
The payout follows a lawsuit filed by student Cameron Padgett (who attends a different university) after his booked speech by Spencer at Auburn’s Foy Hall on April 18 was cancelled.
A spokesperson for Auburn told the University’s student newspaper, The Plainsman, that this decision followed an assessment from Auburn police and was based on “legitimate concerns and credible evidence that [the event would] jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors”.
Padgett, through far-right lawyer Sam Dickson, sought an injunction to force Auburn to let Spencer’s speech go ahead as planned on the basis that the university had violated Padgett and Spencer’s First Amendment rights to free speech.
The judge presiding the case ruled in favour of Spencer’s right to speak, and last Friday the case was dismissed with the university agreeing to pay the sum to “avoid more costly litigation”, The Plainsman reports.
A Dangerous Precedent: Boosted morale for neo-Nazi’s case
Alt-right affiliates have expressed their intent to capitalise on the momentum of the legal win, and boost support for a case being brought against Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer.
The case, brought forward by US civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), accuses Anglin of using his site to run an antisemitic harassment campaign against Tanya Gersha, a Montana-based real-estate agent, and her family.
As the SPLC highlights, Gersh and her family received over 700 messages of harassment, including phone calls which consisted of the sound of gunshots.
The SPLC notes that Anglin’s site published 30 articles urging followers to launch a “troll storm”, as well as publishing contact details of Gersh and her family, and called for an armed march on Gersh’s town of Whitefish.
Spencer’s legal success sets a dangerous contemporary precedent for the legal acceptance of white nationalist views in the US. The morale boost the case will give to the alt-right community should not be taken lightly.
However, as US legal experts have highlighted, if the SPLC can succeed in its legal battle against Anglin, it could set a useful precedent for linking activities such as those his site advocated and any potential offline outcomes.
This is all the more important in the contemporary far-right landscape, as the alt-right white nationalist communities of which Spencer and Anglin are a part have been largely spawned and nurtured online.